In his third album “Pony,” Rex Orange County provides a heightened sense of vulnerability and emotion that listeners witness for the first time. His struggles with love, change and friendship are laid bare, and the artist holds little back in this honest 10-track alternative album.
Creatively mixing instruments and sounds with unconventional combinations of trumpets and acoustic guitars, Rex Orange County’s “Pony” combines his innovative musical talent and exploration of personal musings, even if these musings start to repeat themselves as the album plays on. The album presents an artist honing his craft but also serves as a reminder of the pitfalls of making an album overly one-note.
Twenty-one-year-old Alexander O’Connor, better known as Rex Orange County, first gained recognition in 2016 when rapper Tyler, the Creator sent him a message on SoundCloud. From there, Tyler brought Rex to Los Angeles to collaborate on his upcoming album “Flower Boy.” Rex then got a part in the opening track of the album “Foreword” as well as “Boredom,” one of Tyler’s most popular songs.
Rex released two albums prior to “Pony,” “bcos u will never b free” in 2016 and “Apricot Princess” in 2017. In the two years since, Rex has been mostly quiet and under the radar. On the release day for “Pony,” Rex acknowledged his disappearance on Instagram and admitted the past two years have been tumultuous for him, but that he has finally found peace and contentment.
The first track “10/10” reflects that growth and is one of the only happy songs on the album, presenting a tale of reflection and hope. Rex acknowledges dealing with pain and believes he can start living life optimistically again but then quickly turns to detailing his hardships for the rest of the album.
While “Stressed Out” discusses the friends in Rex’s life and whether or not they are genuine friends, “Every Way” depicts a vulnerable version of the artist begging his girlfriend to comfort him. With a piano accompanying Rex’s passionate vocal lyrics, “I cry in front of you, and it’s very necessary, babe,” he portrays himself as helpless and emotional throughout the album.
Listening to “Pony” feels like reading Rex’s journal or sitting in on his therapy session. The emotions sound raw and intense, but therapy sessions do not always make for enjoyable albums that match the mood of his previous works.
Ultimately, “Pony” departs from Rex’s previous two albums. Although it still combines elements of rhythm and blues, soul, and pop, the depressing content of “Pony” dominates the mood for the entire record. Rex wrote “Apricot Princess” with the intention of trying to keep things positive; “Pony” appears the opposite.
“Pony” lacks the upbeat, youthful qualities found in Rex’s earlier songs that have earned him acclaim and made him the standout collaborator on Tyler’s “Flowerboy.” Thirty minutes of intense exploration of Rex’s depression, while valid, becomes tiresome because it begins and ends at his sadness without any sort of resolution offered or developed.
“Pony” proves what Rex’s previous two albums already indicated: He is highly skilled in his lyric writing, music composition and album production, which all stand out in a crowded alternative field. Although “Pony” is dominated by depressive emotions, Rex’s potential is undeniable. Rex Orange County continues to show tremendous potential, but until he complexifies the emotions that underlie his artistry, “Pony” will remain an album that lacks versatility and timelessness.